Clinton lost. And it wasn’t even close.
Relax — it’s still September. Absentee ballots became available in to North Carolinians two weeks ago. When you look at it that way, the election’s only just begun.
Anxieties run high in North Carolina, maybe the swingiest of battleground states, with leads fluctuating constantly — Hillary Clinton one week, Donald Trump the next. Greensboro Arm Wrestling League elected to provide an opportunity to ease some of the tension.
Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema hosted GRAWL Brawl III: Battle Before the Ballot on Sept. 17, and the people showed up. Attendees filled the top coffeehouse half of Geeksboro, while wrestlers crowded the theater downstairs, temporarily converted into an impromptu green room. Above the steady conversational drone, DJ84 spun rock classics like Blur’s “Song 2” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” all adding to the atmosphere of hype.
The crowd was rambunctious, and they maintained that energy throughout the evening.
Later in the night, WFDD reporter/producer Eddie Garcia stood towards the back of the room near the sugar and cream table, microphone high in the air in one hand, high-zoot recorder in the other.
“I was trying to get crowd reaction, but it’s too crazy in here,” he lamented.
Like I said earlier, Battle Before the Ballot served to ease some of the apprehension over the election. Satire provides an excellent release for this kind of stress: Both audience and performer get to pick fun at the problems that so frighten them, or even just bug and bother them. And the satirical hits landed from the moment emcee Matt Cravey took the mic to welcome all to Geeksboro.
“We were considering holding the event in the TD Center parking lot in Spartanburg, South Carolina, but trying to figure out the logistics wasn’t worth the trouble,” Cravey riffed, bringing to light the recent decisions by both the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference to pull all tournament events from North Carolina due to HB 2.
It was a sly jab, but when talking about HB 2, you can count anything as punching up.
Owing to its tournament format, GRAWL upended things in a way: The title bout came first. Hellary Rotten Clinton faced off against Donna Tramp.
GRAWL blends serious competition with live theatrics. It’s kind of like professional wrestling without the rigged outcomes and toxic masculinity. But it retains all the rivalry building and campy showmanship.
Clinton emerged to MIA’s “Bad Girls” accompanied by red, white and blue balloons and a Secret Service security detail, all business in black blazer and pants. They were clear nods to Clinton’s career politicking, with MIA’s anthem winking to Clinton’s shady, technocratic backroom deals.
“Donna and Hellary are a satire of the worst parts of both characters,” Kitty Lowrance, who played Clinton, said about the wrestlers’ roles.
“Could someone bring me a PBR?” she asked in character before the match.
“That’s not how it works,” Cravey said. “There’s a line, and —”
“It’s okay,” Clinton said, waving over one of her security detail, who cracked open a tall boy and poured it into a fancy goblet. “I have my own private server.”
Loving groans from the audience.
Of course, then came Donna Tramp.
Tramp’s entrance was as brash as the real-life candidate: She came down the aisle tongue out as the Beast Boys’ “Sabotage” blasted from the PA system, decked in American flag Kanye shades, backed up by a sycophant holding a sign reading “Make America Hate Again” and — what else? — a big ol’ wall.
In maybe the most fitting gag of the whole night, Tramp put the wall up to arm-wrestle Hellary instead of fighting for herself.
“You’re gonna actually have to do some work if you wanna move forward,” Cravey told her.
Donna did eventually take her spot and handily beat Clinton in a 2-0 decision.
I consider myself a person with a keen sense of humor, but I found it difficult to take any joy in the charade. Maybe I’m too close to the election, after registering voters for the Democratic Party and taking a day job telling people to vote for Clinton and other liberals, but even while swept up in the cacophony flooding Geeksboro, I couldn’t help but fret over the prospect of a Trump presidency. Instead, I focused my rage and frustration at this living effigy — this caricature of caricatures of a caricature, this kitsch pastiche of the most reviled presidential candidate of all time — booing and jeering directly at Donna Tramp.
“I can’t even bring myself to laugh at her,” I admitted to GRAWL co-founder Amanda Lehmert, a former News & Record reporter and current city of Greensboro spokesperson.
“She’s really a very nice person,” Lehmert said.
Indeed, Rachel Scott, co-founder of GRAWL and co-owner of Geeksboro, entertained me while in character after the tournament wrapped.
“[Hellary] tried to fight dirty, but I’m dirtier — the dirtiest,” Tramp boasted. “It’s not true what they say about my hands.”
I finally chuckled.
Scott didn’t think I was alone in my electoral anxiety.
“This election is already so much of a joke,” she said. “People are already disenchanted about the political system already, and they aren’t really taking the election seriously, unfortunately. So we’re in familiar territory.”
True, to an extent. This is an election the likes of which we’ve never seen.
And it’s only September.